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Source: Washington Post

Oct 6, 2023

Iran controversy brews over girl in coma, possible victim of veil enforcement

By Susannah George

DUBAI — A confrontation with Iran’s morality police that left a teenage girl in a coma is stoking renewed distrust and anger with the country’s leadership and attracting foreign criticism.

The incident recalls the death in custody a year ago of Mahsa Amini over dress code violations, which sparked months of protests in Iran. On Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Narges Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist imprisoned in Iran who has repeatedly spoken out about the draconian enforcement of wearing a headscarf.

Armita Geravand, 16, was on her way to school with two friends on a Tehran metro when she was stopped for not observing the country’s strict Islamic dress code that requires women to cover their hair.

Iranian officials say what happened next is she fainted due to low blood sugar. But activists claim she was assaulted by morality police. While videos were released of her moving through the subway station with friends, footage of the actual confrontation inside the subway car has not been released.

Following this week’s reports of Geravand’s injuries, activists called on the government to allow journalists to speak to her friends and family. Instead, state media released video interviews with her parents, both of whom appeared grief-stricken and shocked.

“I think they said her blood pressure fell,” Geravand’s mother, Shahin Ahmadi, told the camera, her words halting and at times difficult to understand. “She fell on the floor and her head hit the edge of the metro.”

In the interview, her mother said she had seen video footage from inside the subway car. “I do not think what people say has happened,” she said, claiming the video didn’t depict anything controversial.

The statements from Armita’s parents were released to quell suspicion, but for many it only aggravated their distrust.

“The government’s behavior is indicative of its concerted efforts to prevent the truth from coming to light regarding Armita Geravand,” said Mohammadi in a post on her Instagram page that is managed with a colleague just a day before she won the peace prize.

Mohammadi described the interview with Armita’s parents as “ambiguous and non-transparent” and accused Iranian leaders of attempting to “prevent the truth from emerging about Armita.”

Activists have been calling on the government to release additional security videos.

“We will not let you destroy the truth; Publish the complete video inside the subway,” Hossein Ronaghi, a prominent activist previously imprisoned by Iranian authorities, posted to social media.

The fate of Geravand also attracted the concern of foreign officials, with Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, noting the similarities with the case of Amini. “Once again a young woman in #Iran is fighting for her life. Just because she showed her hair on the subway. It’s unbearable,” she tweeted, adding that her parents should be by her side rather than put in front of cameras.

Abram Paley, of the U.S. envoy to Iran’s office, said he was “shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita Geravand.” He added reports of the arrest of a journalist investigating the case are also unacceptable.

In an apparent retort to some of these statements, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign minister, Nasser Kanaani, suggested American, British and German officials concern themselves with their own striking health-care workers, “instead of interventionist & biased remarks & expressing insincere concern over Iranian women & girls.”

Iran initially appeared to have curbed its morality police after last year’s protests, but the patrols were resumed this year as the country took steps to once again tighten dress code enforcement.

Many women stopped covering their heads and some even burned headscarves at rallies in the wake of Amini’s death.

By Susannah GeorgeSusannah George is The Washington Post's Gulf bureau chief, based in Dubai, where she leads coverage of the oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf and their neighbor, Iran. She previously spent four years as The Post's Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief. Twitter

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